Title: Desire
Author: m.jules
Summary: "You dream so loudly she aches with it and she wakes me up because she can't sleep."
Disclaimer: Joss's. Love, not money.
Pairing: Mal/River
Author's Notes: It's all Molly's fault, for one. I'm in awe and in love. Two, the title? I decided I wanted to try a Mal/River, and that I would title it after the very first song that played on my iTunes. So I hit random, and U2 started singing "Desire" and I thought - oh hell, that should be easy. It kind of was, although I have to apologize for the weird POV. It's through Mal's eyes but with River's voice, so maybe it's River-inside-Mal's head doing all the narrating.

"You keep waking up on fire," a voice whispers out of the darkness and he sits up with a sharp curse. She laughs and he remembers when he thought for just a moment, a suspended breath in a frozen landscape of everything that was foreign and familiar all at once, that she was the ship, when her laughter echoed out of the walls of Serenity and she asked him to trust her. And he did.

"You wanna tell me if you're really in here or pullin' another one of your fancy tricks?" he asks into the shadows by the ladder, his own voice ridiculously loud when he can't see to whom he's speaking -- and just how the hell does her voice blend and resonate with the very fabric of the ship and not sound the least bit out of place? Gorram, it's his ship and he walks through her with less grace than this dancing fugitive.

"No tricks," she answers, and he sees a motion from a shadow that is somehow darker than the rest, sees when she stands up, the way her hair and dress sway, and can pick out her face because it's a shade paler than the darkness surrounding it. "But maybe a little fancy, if you want."

Then she's moving into the room a little further, where the soft blue light of the intercom panel catches on all the soft angles of her face and the hard curves of her body, and he knows he's in deep shit now, because this isn't a random stranger he married in a drunken ceremony, and this isn't someone without a history. This is someone who is fighting for her future, and goddamn if he doesn't know how that feels. And now she's fighting for a piece of his future, and he's pretty sure she's never worn that dress before.

"You don't wanna be here, little one," he tells her, fighting to remind hiimself that she's young, that she's not whole and not ready and not his even though she's felt like his from the moment the incongruous thought had flitted through his mind that he was going to lose his best mechanic over shooting a young, pretty doctor, because anyone who locked this girl into a cryopod deserved to be gutshot with a rusty bullet.

"That's not true," she tells him, and there's laughter in her voice, and a cocksure kind of lilt that puts him momentarily on the defensive. "You can't speak for other people like that. It's rude and your momma taught you better." She smiles and he catches a glimpse of the reason the Alliance is so hard on her trail. A girl with the ability to get into people's heads the way she does would make the most excellent kind of spyassassinambassador. "Also -- you want me here."

"Now wait just a minute," he protests, fighting for equilibrium when she is coming closer one half-step at a time, toe-heel, toe-heel, on her pretty ballerina feet. "How come you get to talk for me? Ain't that kinda hypocritical of you?"

"Because I'm not polite," she laughs. "And because I know." Her eyes half-close as if in blissful memory, and he feels heat shoot up his spine, remembers suddenly the last time sweat ran down his chest and stomach, pooled at the small of his back, soaked through his hair. Remembers how it felt to have a woman's softness around, above, astride him. Remembers the taste of desire and wants it again, now.

"That ain't fair," he tells her, and his voice is not-quite-dangerous but his jaw is set like granite and his forehead stubbronly like flint.

"I'm not telling you anything you haven't already said," she says quietly, and now she's at his bed, and now her knee is pressing into his mattress and she's leaning down closer to him, her body suspended in an odd position that makes the muscles of his back ache just thinking about duplicating it. "You dream so loudly she aches with it and she wakes me up because she can't sleep." The words are whispered against his lips, and he wants to ask, stupidly, who she is when he knows full well Serenity talks to River and he's jealous all over again, the same way he was jealous when he realized the ship, his ship, talked to Kaylee.

But Kaylee is worth trusting, and if Serenity talks to River, maybe she is worth trusting too. He already trusts her, though, so the point is redundant.

"She wakes me up and I can feel it. You wake up on fire all the time." The lips that are resting against his own without pressure curve up into a smile and she can't quite contain a giggle. Her hair slips free of her ear and slithers down her face, sliding against his skin and it's like silk and smells like something wonderful and all he can do is close his eyes and try to remember how to breathe.

"I can burn with you," she tells him just before he loses all self control and slants his mouth over hers with a guilty kind of desperation, and for all the confidence in her body and her speech, her kiss shows how much she is still a little girl, how much she has missed and lost over the years, and he has the thought that this could very well be her first kiss, and if he takes things where she's trying to go, he could be her first everything.

It gives him pause and he pulls back, frowning, and the look in her eyes is one of fear and insecurity and please, did I do something wrong? and he pinches the bridge of his nose in pure frustration.

"River," he begins, and she stops him with a shake of her head, her hair tumbling around them. "River," he insists, but she knows -- of course -- what he is going to say and answers him before he has a chance.

"Somebody has to be the first," she whispers, and he can't decide whether he finds the idea attractive or repulsive. "I am a girl, I function like a girl now, and my skin burns like a girl when there is fire close by." She tilts her head forward, shadowing her eyes, and there is an odd kind of vulnerability in her voice when she says, "I just needed to see the sky again. You're like the sky -- cold and warm and a mystery in plain sight. Now I know who I am again."

He is trying to find something to say to that, something that doesn't make the mistake of comparing a young girl to a cow because while she can get away with it he knows better than to think he can, when she smiles crookedly and lifts her eyes to his again.

"Besides," she continues, her tone brimming with a mischievous kind of humor, "If it's not you, who would it be? Simon? The Shepherd? Jayne?"

The others nearly make him laugh, but the thought of Jayne's rough hands on her frail body -- Jayne, who takes what experienced women give him with more experience than they have, Jayne who handles his gun with more tenderness than he is likely to give any woman anytime soon -- makes his own fingers reach for her, and they settle awkwardly on her shoulder.

She smiles, just a little, and there is triumph in the curve of her lower lip. And this time when he leans up to kiss her, he takes the time to guide her with a hand on her jaw and the patient coaxing of lips and tongue, and he feels when her body ignites and her hands flail with the sudden need that explodes within her. He reaches out with one hand and finds hers and she clings to him with grateful desperation. Their fingers twine together and he means to pull back from the kiss to whisper reassurances but instead he pushes deeper, tasting her, drawing a helpless, whiimpering moan from her throat. An answering groan rises up from the deepest part of his abdomen and it's all he can do not to roll her beneath hiim at that moment, even though he likes to take it slow and knows that she needs it slow.

Slower than this.

Finally, finally he works his mouth free from hers, though when they part he is still sighing with the taste of her, and leans his forehead against hers, his fingers squeezing her hand with equal parts possession and apology.

"It don't all hafta happen at once," he whispers, and he can feel relief in the slump of her body. Understanding floods him as she opens her mind to his, and he sees that she is thankful she doesn't have to learn everything tonight, not when every slide of his tongue against hers is something new, and reassured that he doesn't intend to leave her to burn by herself forever.

She presses her lips against his again, and there is an instant reaction as both their tongues lash out for a taste of the other, and she laughs at the awkward collision before the sensation steals another sound from her mouth. Then she's pulling away with a series of short kisses, leaving before she can insist that she's a fast learner and needs it all now, and he has to close his eyes to let her go because if he sees her he'll tell her to stay.

She's gone without a word, silently, and he thinks that if his dreams before have kept Serenity awake, none of the three of them are likely to get any sleep anytime soon.